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Posts Tagged ‘F. Scott Fitzgerald’

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Rosemary had invited a few friends over for an afternoon party, and asked that they dress in the style of the Roaring Twenties. The guests had all arrived together, and after admiring each other’s costumes became restive.

“What’s the entertainment, Rosemary?” Cecil asked. He wore a straw boater and a pink bow tie with his old seersucker suit. He hadn’t worn that suit since graduating from seminary, and the jacket felt tight across the shoulders. “I don’t see a jazz quartet, and I haven’t been offered a martini.”

Rosemary explained, “I always wait for the longest day of the year and then miss it, so this year I decided to have a little garden party on the first day of summer, to mark it properly. And you’re just going to love the entertainment, Cecil. We’re going to read The Great Gatsby out loud, in parts! Clyde, you’ll be Gatsby, Howie can be Nick, Franklin is Tom, I’ll be Daisy, Dana can be Jordan Baker, and Lizzie is Myrtle Wilson.”

The guests shifted uneasily. Lizzie looked irritated.

“Anyway, you left me out,” Cecil observed.

Rosemary closed her eyes to think. “You can be Wilson,” she said slowly. She held out a hand, imploring. “I read Gatsby every spring, and I woke up one morning not too long ago and said to myself, ‘Oh! I’ve forgotten to read Gatsby!’ Haven’t you ever done that? So that’s why I invited you all here, on the longest day of the year. Now, follow me down to the pond.”

“It’s sure going to feel like the longest day of the year,” Frank murmured in Dana’s ear.

Rosemary led the party down to the pond behind her house, a pond that once served to water a field of cattle. It had since been domesticated. The field was planted with bluegrass and flower beds to set off Rosemary’s two-story yellow brick Colonial with its emerald front door and matching shutters.

The back lawn, shining green and flawless, ran in a smooth green ribbon that rippled around mosaic birdbaths and gravel paths before circling the pond. Pools of bright flowers clustered around the water on the far side, and on the near side was a casual scatter of Adirondack chairs, ingeniously designed of wood-grained plastic. A long table nearby was covered with a white cloth that swept the grass and blew gently when the wind stirred. It held a silver punch bowl the size of a baby’s bath, an equally large silver epergne filled with blue hydrangeas, a tall white cake under a glass dome, covered platters of hors d’oeuvres, fruit, and a scattering of clear glass punch cups, napkins, and china plates.

Rosemary turned when she reached the pond and opened her mouth to speak when a cry of alarm, followed by loud laughter, stopped her.

“Dana broke her face!” Lizzie announced.

“What?”

“Her heel snapped off, right in the lawn. I wish you’d seen! Her face twisted into the awfullest knot as she caught herself! Frank can’t stop laughing.”

Frank was doubled over.

Lizzie said, “She might have broken every bone in her face. Is your face all right, Dana?”

Dana, disgruntled, kicked off both shoes and smoothed her white linen dropped-waist dress. She’d ordered it from J. Peterman, and fear of smearing it on the grass had helped keep her upright. Dana had thought herself the essence of the Jazz Age until she saw Rosemary, in her silver beaded dress with the matching head band.

The party assembled near the table by the pond.

“Let’s go fishing,” Lizzie said. “Got any poles?”

“No. Anyway, we’re going to read Gatsby.”

“Who’s that?” Dana gestured across the lawn, to the sloping yard that ended in a bed of pink and yellow flowers, across to a rougher yard in front of a small dusty house. Two little girls presided over a table of glassware, toys, and household items. “A mad tea party?”

“That’s Nick’s place!” Rosemary said happily. “Isn’t it perfect that I have a little shack next to my place, like Gatsby had next to his? I should have sent a guy over to mow the lawn before my party.”

“They’re selling things,” Lizzie said. “It appears to be a yard sale. I wonder if they have a fishing pole for sale?” She drifted across the lawn, stepped through the flower bed, and walked up the slope toward the girls.

“It’s a perpetual yard sale,” Rosemary told Cecil. “Those people are out there all the time. I can’t imagine what they’re peddling.” She sank into one of the plastic chairs and waved her copy of The Great Gatsby toward the chair beside hers. He sat.

Dana followed Lizzie, but stopped at the flower bed rather than walk across it with bare feet. “These are some unusual flowers,” she called. “What are they, Rose?”

Rosemary sighed, and let her book fall to the grass beside her chair. “Anyway,” Cecil said, patting her arm, “you only have one copy of the book. We can hardly read parts with only one copy.”

Rosemary stood and walked to the flower bed, with Cecil behind her. Frank, Howie, and Clyde were pouring themselves drinks and sampling the hors d’oeuvres.

Rosemary and Cecil surveyed the flower bed with Dana. “They look like teacups!” Dana said. She had a smidge of red lip gloss a bit to the east of her mouth.

“Those are my teacup tulips,” Rosemary explained. “They aren’t really tulips, of course—after all it’s June, right?  They are a hybrid lily, but I call them my teacup tulips. Aren’t they darling?”

Each lily had a rounded, scallop-edged cup, yellow with deep pink striping, and one petal on each curled around sharply like a handle on a teacup.

Rosemary allowed them a moment to enjoy the novelty lilies. “Now come along, both of you, and let’s read Gatsby. We’ll pass the book and read it in chunks.”

“Hey!” Frank said, “These chicken livers are delicious. Are they bad or good for cholesterol?”

“Save me some of those livers for bait,” Lizzie said. She descended the slope, stepped through the flower bed, and walked over to show off her acquisition—a pink plastic Barbie fishing pole. “This wasn’t up for sale, but I gave the kids $2 to rent it. Now be a pal, Frank, and thread one of those livers on that hook. It’s okay to put the bacon on, too. Oh, and I told the kids they should come over and have a piece of cake.”

“Thank you,” Rosemary said. She did not sound grateful.

Everyone sat and watched as Lizzie made a tentative cast into the pond. “Aren’t there any fish?” she asked. “Look how the chicken liver and bacon made a greasy spot on the surface. What fish could resist that?”

“Come sit, Lizzie,” Rosemary said. “We’re about to start reading, and we need you. There aren’t any fish. Let’s read, and we’ll skip all the gray, ashy parts. We don’t need the Wilsons, really, do we?  Or the trips into the city? We’ll just read the parts about the parties, and the music, and the moonlight.”

“Can’t stop now,” Lizzie said. “I’ve invested two bucks in this fishing pole, and I’m determined to catch a fish, if this pond will produce one.”

To distract her from Gatsby, Rosemary’s guests brought her plates of food, and three cups of champagne punch from the silver bowl. Howie and Dana walked across to invite the yard sale girls to come have some treats. They came, blonde and freckled and solemn, accepted plates filled with the white cake, and disappeared.

“I suppose I’ll have to go over there and buy my plates back,” Rosemary said.

“Hush, they’ll hear you,” Howie scolded. “Do you think they’re deaf?”

Rosemary stretched her legs out in front of her and crossed them at the ankle. “All right, Howie. You just go over there and get my plates back. Give them however much money they want, because those are my granny’s china pattern.”

Howie made binoculars of his hands and trained them on the yard sale table. “They’ve disappeared. No! There they are. They’re on the other side of the yard.”

“What happened to the sun? Wasn’t there a sun shining a minute ago?” Rosemary felt that her entire party was slipping away from her. She had meant for it to be so nice.

“It’s behind a cloud,” Cecil said. He pushed the copy of Gatsby beneath Rosemary’s chair with his foot and handed her a cup of punch.

“We’ll have to make our own sunshine!” Rosemary stood and took a deep swallow from the cup in her left hand. The drink made her close her eyes and throw her head backwards.

Cecil steadied her by placing his hand on her spine. Her dress felt like a damp silver cobweb, with hard knots of beading caught up in the threads. He wondered if it would break and pull away like cobweb when he removed his hand.

“I think the clouds are here to stay, but anyway, how would you make sunshine?”

“Don’t know yet. Why is Frank eating the hydrangeas? I thought he liked the livers.”

“Too much cholesterol, and he thinks the hydrangeas look like raspberry snow cones.”

Rosemary shook her head. “He mustn’t eat the flowers. Did you hear that Dana broke her face?”

“I did hear that. Her face looks fine now. See? She’s drinking champagne punch from one of your teacup tulips.”

“We mustn’t eat and drink the flowers. That’s not what they’re for. Let’s go get some breakfast.”

“You’ve just polished off a plate of cake. Anyway, it’s only five o’clock. And it’s the longest day of the year, so you want to see it out to the end, don’t you? What do you want breakfast for?”

“Here they come!” Howie announced. “And I think they’re bringing your granny’s plates back, so you should beg their pardon.”

The girls carried their plates and placed them on the table. “Thank you for the cake,” the oldest child, who was possibly nine or ten years old, said. She patted her smaller sister on the back encouragingly.

“Thank you,” the sister whispered. She had tiny front teeth, like pearl beads. She raised her eyes, a pale gray-blue, to look at Rosemary in her silver dress. “It’s a beautiful birthday party.”

“You’re welcome,” Rosemary said. “Only it’s not a birthday.”

The smaller sister held up a cloudy silver bud vase from the yard sale table. It held two blooms of Queen Anne’s Lace.

“Are these for Miss Rosemary?” Howie asked. “Isn’t that lovely? Let’s set them right here, beside the cake. Aren’t they wonderful, Rosemary?”

“Yes.”

Lizzie came up from the pond and handed the Barbie fishing pole to the older sister. “Thanks for letting me borrow it,” she said. “I didn’t get a single bite.”

The girls took the fishing pole and ran home, leaping over the teacup tulips like yearlings.

“Wasn’t that nice?” Dana said. “What sweetie pies. What are their names?”

“Let’s skip the gray and ashy parts,” Rosemary said, waving her hand. “Let’s get some breakfast. I love breakfast.”

Cecil rolled his eyes. “Rosemary, what is it with breakfast?”

“It’s the most important meal of the day. I feel like having a toastel struder.”

“We’ll get you a struder, my sweet. We’ll get you several struder. What’s the matter? Is your face broken?”

Rosemary considered this carefully. “I believe it is,” she said sadly, and she pressed one of her white hands with its brilliant silver nails, hard and shining as ice, to her cheek.

END

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In my younger and more vulnerable years I faced a deadline for a poetry assignment. Poetry didn’t come easily to me, and I was most likely to serve up a Dr. Seussish rhyme or jingle.  Even so, I always needed some sort of hook to get started.

My sister had given me a copy of The Notebooks of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and I picked it up hoping to find something useful. When I came across his piece entitled “Turkey Remains and How to Inter Them With Numerous Scarce Recipes,” I knew I’d found my starting point. I wrote a series of six light verses based on several of Fitzgerald’s recipes and met my deadline with time to spare. Sadly, these verses did not survive except for the one that I committed to memory.  It is called “Stolen Turkey.”

Walk quickly away from the market,
And if someone should sound an alarm,
Laugh, and look down in surprise and dismay
At the turkey tucked under your arm.
Then drop it with the white of one egg,
And well, anyhow, beat it.
But if you should chance to get away clean,
Take the bird home and just eat it.

If that morsel of leftover poetry left you unsatisfied, here—in plenty of time for Thanksgiving—is an excerpt from Fitzgerald’s  “Turkey Remains.” See if you can spot the one I borrowed for my poem!

At this post-holiday season the refrigerators of the nation are overstuffed with large masses of turkey, the sight of which is calculated to give an adult an attack of dizziness. It seems, therefore, an appropriate time to give the owners the benefit of my experience as an old gourmet, in using this surplus material. Some of the recipes have been in my family for generations. (This usually occurs when rigor mortis sets in.) They were collected over years, from old cook books, yellowed diaries of the Pilgrim Fathers, mail order catalogues, golfbags and trash cans. Not one but has been tried and proven—there are headstones all over America to testify to the fact.

Very well then.  Here goes:

Turkey Cocktail
To one large turkey add one gallon of vermouth and a demijohn of angostura bitters. Shake.

Turkey à la Francais
Take a large ripe turkey, prepare as for basting and stuff with old watches and chains and monkey meat. Proceed as with cottage-pudding.

Turkey and Water
Take one turkey and one pan of water. Heat the latter to the boiling point and then put in the refrigerator. When it has jelled drown the turkey in it. Eat. In preparing this recipe it is best to have a few ham sandwiches around in case things go wrong.

Turkey Mousée
Seed a large prone turkey, being careful to remove the bones, flesh, fins, gravy, etc. Blow up with a bicycle pump. Mount in becoming style and hang in the front hall.

Stolen Turkey
Walk quickly from the market and if accosted remark with a laugh that it had just flown into your arms and you hadn’t noticed it. Then drop the turkey with the white of one egg—well, anyhow, beat it.

Turkey Hash
This is the delight of all connoisseurs of the holiday beast, but few understand how really to prepare it. Like a lobster it must be plunged alive into boiling water, until it becomes bright red or purple or something, and then before the color fades, placed quickly in a washing machine and allowed to stew in its own gore as it is whirled around. Only then is it ready for hash. To hash, take a large sharp tool like a nail-file or if none is handy, a bayonet will serve the purpose—and then get at it! Hash it well! Bind the remains with dental floss and serve.

Turkey with Whiskey Sauce.
This recipe is for a party of four. Obtain a gallon of whiskey, and allow it to age for several hours. Then serve, allowing one quart for each guest. The next day the turkey should be added, little by little, constantly stirring and basting.

For Weddings or Funerals. Obtain a gross of small white boxes such as are used for bride’s cake. Cut the turkey into small squares, roast, stuff, kill, boil, bake and allow to skewer. Now we are ready to begin. Fill each box with a quantity of soup stock and pile in a handy place. As the liquid elapses, the prepared turkey is added until the guests arrive. The boxes delicately tied with white ribbons are then placed in the handbags of the ladies, or in the men’s side pockets.

I have my own ideas about how to handle Thanksgiving leftovers.  I love turkey and dressing sandwiches slathered with French onion dip.

And here’s an idea for leftover desserts:  Last month I made a hefty batch of pumpkin pie bars. There were far too many to consume as dessert, but I didn’t feel comfortable taking them to the office. They were so… heavy. Then I hit on the idea of crumbling one up and swirling it through my morning oatmeal. Delicious, and filling!  I propose that leftover pumpkin or pecan pie, or even an aging coconut cake, could also be treated in this way. A slender slice of pie will add a bit of sweetness and spice to the virtuous feeling you get from eating your oatmeal.

Whatever you eat in the coming feast-days, have a happy Thanksgiving—and inter your leftovers with care.

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The view from the attic window.

It’s hard to buckle down and write, because the weather is so nice and everything is blooming. Ernesto and I begin and end each day by taking an inventory of yard and garden. Today we have sunflower sprouts, and visible zucchini plants. The rose bush has seven buds, and I don’t understand why the peonies aren’t blooming already. They are so close.

Yesterday morning we startled a baby bunny tucked into the mulch of the herb garden, next to the oregano. We are already using the oregano, parsley, and rosemary, because they all came back strong from last year with no effort on our part. Lavender and mint are thriving in pots, and my five cheap hydrangeas from Aldi, which were palest pink when I planted them two weeks ago, have turned so dark they’re nearly red. They are evidently delighted to be here, and I am delighted to have them.

Why would anybody want to sit in front of a computer in a warmish attic, with so much happening right outside? 

Besides, this is exactly the time of year that I like to re-read The Great Gatsby just like I used to do every spring when I was in high school and college. I’d sit in my bedroom with both windows up, the scent of new-mown grass (probably I had mowed it), and a view of the pond when I looked up. Perfect conditions for passages like this one: 

We walked through a high hallway into a bright rosy-colored space, fragilely bound into the house by French windows at either end. The windows were ajar and gleaming white agaist the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house. A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea.

Or this:

There was music from my neighbor’s house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girl came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars. …

The moon had risen higher, and floating in the Sound was a triangle of silver scales, trembling a little to the stiff, tinny drip of the banjoes on the lawn.

Of course, Fitzgerald contrasts all that with the smoky gray gardens of the valley of ashes. And in fact, when an April day reaches 90 degrees, you have to wonder what in the world things will be like in July and August. Perhaps by then all the young sunflowers and squash, the herbs and lettuces and unborn tomatoes will have burned to ashes, too. But for now, it’s springtime, and like Gatsby I am filled with hope.

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